Military to be called in to help Scottish ambulance crews

The Scottish government is drawing up a request for “targeted military assistance” for the ambulance service.

Nicola Sturgeon said health services were dealing with the most challenging combination of circumstances in their history due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Opposition politicians have highlighted a series of serious ambulance delays, including one where a man died after a 40-hour wait.

They said this should not be happening in Scotland in 2021.

Ms Sturgeon said her government was looking at a range of plans to deal with the significant challenges facing the health services, with the detail of a request for military assistance being considered.

She told the Scottish Parliament: “I’ll be going back to my office to finalise the detail of the request for military assistance so we can submit that as quickly as possible.”

“There is a simple truth – nobody should be left to die on the floor while
waiting 40 hours for an ambulance.”

The first minister added: “Such military assistance is already being provided to ambulance services in England and of course we have had military assistance for other aspects of the pandemic over the past 18 months.”

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Investigations are ongoing into several cases reported in the media on Thursday, including one where a Glasgow pensioner died after a 40-hour wait for an ambulance.

The Herald newspaper reported that the family of 65-year-old Gerard Brown were told that he could have survived had help arrived sooner.

The Scottish Ambulance Service is investigating the circumstances of the case, and said it will be “in contact with Mr Brown’s family directly to apologise for the delay”.

Mr Brown’s death has been reported to the Procurator Fiscal, who said an investigation was “ongoing”.

Pressed on the case at her weekly question session at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon offered her condolences to Mr Brown’s family, and said what had been reported was “unacceptable”.

She said Scotland was “experiencing probably the most challenging combination of circumstances that our health service has faced since its establishment” due to the pandemic.

The head of the Scottish Ambulance Service has previously apologised to patients over increased waiting times, saying staff were working under “unprecedented pressure” due to a “huge increase” in both Covid and non-Covid cases.

Pauline Howie said the service was “at full capacity” and hospitals were too, meaning it takes longer to hand over patients at emergency departments – creating delays in responding to other calls.


Nicola Sturgeon

image source, Getty Images

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the ambulance service was “in crisis”, and said cases like that of Mr Brown “shouldn’t be happening in Scotland in 2021”.

He also called for Health Secretary Humza Yousaf to withdraw comments he made on BBC Radio Scotland on Wednesday, when he said people should “think twice” about whether they really needed an ambulance before calling for one.

Ms Sturgeon said the ambulance service was already “operating at its highest level of escalation” in response to current pressures, and said Mr Yousaf’s comments reflected others made by services “in every part of the UK”.

Labour leader Anas Sarwar raised the same case, describing it as an “avoidable human tragedy”.

He said Ms Sturgeon should not use the pandemic as an excuse, adding: “There is a simple truth – nobody should be left to die on the floor while waiting 40 hours for an ambulance.”

Ms Sturgeon said governments across the world were dealing with similar problems at the moment, and that her administration was “absolutely focused” on providing solutions.

Meanwhile Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton called for the military assistance to be deployed swiftly, saying the government had “done too little, too late”.

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